Saturday, August 15, 2009

Atkinson Designs: “Tag Along Tote”


Project: Tag Along Tote designed by Terry Atkinson,  featuring “Urban Couture” fabrics by Basic Grey.  Click here for bag pattern.  Click here for fabric collection.

Finished Size: 7” x 8” x 2”

Skill Level: Confident Beginner


  • Free Motion Quilting
  • Binding
  • Basic Bag Construction

Useful Supplies

  • Machinger’s Quilter’s Gloves (click here)
  • Fusible Fleece (click here & here)
  • Aurifil 28 weight thread for machine quilting, top-stitching, and bag construction. Click here for our current selection.

Project Description:

The pattern states: “For a fast fashion statement, make this tote in your favorite colors.  If you have extra time, add the optional zipper closure.  Tuck your cell phone or iPod in the pocket, add a dash of cash, and away you go!” 

I’ve made a lot of bags lately, and some pattern designers clearly stand apart from the crowd.  Terri Atkinson’s bag designs are exceptionally clear, concise, and accurate.  But, I wouldn’t expect anything less from her… her quilt patterns are the same way.

I love the way this little bag comes together.  Initially, as I cut the pieces, I didn’t understand how the lining was created, but she cleverly walks you through it, step by step, and everything fits together perfectly.

Also, the fabric requirements are simple.  Three fat quarters: one focus print, and two accent colors.  That’s It!

Disclaimer: This blog is meant to illustrate the ease of bag construction, and demonstrate some useful tips.  It does NOT replace the pattern.  Please refer to Terri Atkinson’s pattern for precise measurements, excellent sewing diagrams, and step by step instruction.

Let’s get started…

Quilting fabric “sandwiches” for a bag is a good opportunity to practice free motion quilting. I’m still a beginner, and it is much less intimidating for me to work on fabric rectangles like this, rather than try to quilt an intricately pieced quilt top.  If I mess up… there’s no harm done… I can always start over.

I struggle to keep my stitches nice near the edges, and it doesn’t matter with this.  The sides, top, and bottom are eventually trimmed away.

Before you quilt your rectangles, practice a little on a fabric/fleece/fabric sandwich.  Adjust your thread tension if needed (I usually find that I need to loosen both my top & bottom tension.)  Be sure that both the top & bobbin thread looks nice on your practice piece.

Create a “sandwich” using the lining fabric, some lightweight batting or fusible fleece, and the focus fabric.  I prefer fusible fleece because it is sturdy without being heavy.  It gives bags nice body, and doesn’t bunch up.  Press to fuse the fleece to one fabric, and use quilt basting spray to adhere the fleece to the other fabric.


Starting at one end of the rectangle, begin free motion quilting.  Draw the bobbin thread to the top, so it doesn’t get tangled in your stitches.  Use a free motion “darning” foot on the sewing machine.  I like to use Aurifil 28 weight thread for quilting because the heavier weight thread shows up nicely. It is also good for bag construction because it is so sturdy.  Click here for our current selection.


Begin free motion quilting.  For me, this consists of random loops and swirls, trying to keep stitches even and the direction smooth.  Machingers quilting gloves are very helpful to grip the fabric as you work.


Trim the fabric rectangle to size.  The edges become trash, and a neat fabric/fleece/fabric “sandwich” remains.


One end of the rectangle is cut at an angle:


The small wedge shape (photo right) becomes the top of the bag front.  The large wedge shape (photo left) becomes the bottom half of the bag front, the bag bottom, and the bag back.


Un-quilted lining fabric is trimmed at both ends.  Only the central portion is used in the bag.


Align the un-quilted lining piece (photo left) with the small quilted wedge (photo right).


Sew these two pieces, right sides together.  The end of the quilted wedge needs to protrude 1/4” beyond the lining, for perfect alignment.


The quilted wedge (photo right) is sewn to the un-quilted lining (photo left), right sides together:


The lining is wrapped around the wedge, and a second seam is sewn over the first.


The lining is then turned right side out. The result… un-quilted lining fabric finishes the edge of the quilted wedge.  Only the right side of the lining fabric is visible. The lining forms a neat fold at the bottom of this photo:


A little pocket is created from a fabric rectangle.


And neatly turned right sides out:


The pocket is aligned on the outside, and top-stitched on the sides & bottom.  The main side of the bag is complete.


Next, apply a  double fold binding to the angled end of the larger portion of the quilted fabric rectangle.


After sewing the binding in place by machine, it is wrapped to the inside.  I chose to hand stitch it in place, although I could have “stitched in the ditch”.


The top portion is aligned with the bottom portion, and the layers are stitched together.  (Sorry, I didn’t take a long enough photo.  There is a long piece of quilted rectangle that extends beyond the bottom of this photo):


Then, the bottom half of the rectangle is folded up to the top, right sides together, and the side seams are created.  These seams are finished with a zig-zag stitch.


With the bag inside out, the bag bottom is created by sewing across the corner at a 45 degree angle.  I use the markings on my cutting mat to neatly align the edges, and mark the corner for sewing (A seam will run from top to bottom, 1” in from the corner point.)


When both bottom corners are sewn, the bag has a tidy shape, with a 1” bottom:


The top of the bag has a neat binding.  This is easiest to sew using the free arm feature on the sewing machine.


The binding is neatly wrapped to the inside of the bag.  I hand- stitched it in place… it’s a little bag, so it doesn’t take too long to sew by hand!


Fabric strips are joined at a 45 degree angle to create the straps.  I lay the strips at right angles on my cutting mat, and draw a chalk mark on the diagonal.


Excess fabric is trimmed away.


The raw edges of the fabric strips are pressed to the center.


Then, the strip is folded in half lengthwise, and top stitched.


Two long strips are created, then knotted in the center and at each end.


The handles are neatly sewn to both sides of the bag, just above the knot.


And, the bag is complete. 


My cell phone fits perfectly in the little pocket.  My new “flat wallet”  just fits inside, although if the bag was a little taller it would fit better, and I could add a button or snap closure. 


Making this bag was fun, easy, and took about 4 hours.  I think these would make great gifts, as the cost of the supplies is minimal, and the fabric choices can easily be adapted for anybody’s preference. 

The possibilities are endless!